Shoppers Target Self-Checkout Registers Amid Soaring Inflation

With skyrocketing daily product prices, retailers all over the world are recording an increase in shoplifting incidents. Over the second half of 2022, retailers in the UK reported an 18 percent increase in thefts, while according to the US National Retail Federation, the amount of organized shoplifting increased by 26.5 percent. In nine out of ten incidents, shoplifters were targeting self-checkout registers.

In addition to alcoholic beverages and other premium goods, shoplifters went after butter, milk, cheese, and other daily products.

“This is clearly a new trend and a direct result of consumer goods price increases,” said Saulius Kaukenas, CEO of retail technology startup ScanWatch.

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According to Kaukenas, 2022 saw a major shift in shoplifting behavior.

“The industry is used to a 2 percent shrinkage rate due to organized theft,” he said. “Sadly, this rate is a given. Yet in 2022 retailers saw an increase in “accidental” first-time shoplifters—common shoppers who have no criminal background or major criminal intentions.”

According to data from major retailers, these first-time shoplifters most often target self-checkout registers. A 2016 joint US retailer and Leicester University study states that losses from theft at locations with self-checkout kiosks are at 4 —nearly double the common industry average. Due to the rise in thefts, Wegmans, a major US retailer with 109 store locations, discontinued self-service checkout.

“Self-checkouts often are the weakest link in retail security,” Kaukenas said. “There is also a major psychological factor in play. There is a certain stigma to tricking a human cashier, while fooling a machine is more of a challenge—especially for first time offenders.”

In 2022 retailers also recorded a major increase in mis-scanned items—when unpacked goods such as avocados turn into onions—as well as intentional incidents, where not all items in the shopping cart are scanned, or product barcodes are switched.

According to a recent US shopper survey, 20 percent admitted to intentionally cheating at the self-checkout registers.

“The main reasons for this is most self-checkout systems simply lack the appropriate security measures,” Kaukenas said. “The holiday season will see a record rise in thefts—and the industry is trying to adapt to this new reality. RFID or security tags will not protect every carton of milk. QR code scanning at the checkout gate is also more of a bandage than a proper solution. To make self-checkout work, the industry needs to step up in terms of security technology.”

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